Bacteria is experiencing a boon as of late. Just recently, microorganisms have been used to make a better sunscreen. Another bright idea comes from scientists who are using bacteria as the key ingredient in a biological light bulb that requires no electricity.
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Created by three undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the so-called Biobulb will include a genetically engineered species of E. coli bacteria, the kind living inside the intestines of humans and other animals. Normally, these bacteria don't glow in the dark, but researchers plan to introduce a loop of DNA to the microbes that will give them the genes for bioluminescence. The bacteria will glow like lightning bugs, jellyfish and bioluminescent plankton.
"The Biobulb is essentially a closed ecosystem in a jar," biochemistry major Michael Zaiken said in the project's video pitch. "It's going to contain several different species of microorganisms, and each organism plays a role in the recycling of vital nutrients that each of the other microbes need to survive."
Those microorganisms feed the E. coli, which will be retrofitted with a new genetic circuit to provide the code for a set of proteins that Zaiken says will "recruit, use and recycle cellular fuel" to emit light. It's kind of like making a terrarium inside a small light bulb.
Zaiken says the bulb could be recharged by ambient light sources found around the house during the day. The idea is that such light would feed the microorganisms that feed the E.coli, keeping them alive and repeatedly glowing for days, or even months.
Researchers say they plan on experimenting with different bioluminescence proteins to determine which species' native genes produce the best glow. "We also plan to experiment with techniques to combat mutation in the plasmid, different colored light emission, and different triggers for the activation of the glowing bacteria," the researchers write.
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No word yet on how much light a Biobulb would give off, but the project is still in the development stage as a finalist in the Popular Science #CrowdGrant Challenge. Zaiken and his teammates – Alexandra Cohn and AnaElise Beckman - recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for an easy-to-use Biobulb kit.
"Many people don't understand what exactly synthetic biology is," Cohn says in her team's video. "What if there was a way to show people how synthetic biology can be used in a resourceful and artistic fashion?"
Credit: Wisconsin Institute for Discovery